Kim Graham-Nye
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Babies are cute, aren't they? They're designed to be lovable. And it's a good thing because if you've ever spent time with them, you know that they sure do poop and wee a lot. 17 years ago, I was pregnant with our first son. And while other pregnant couples were obsessing over baby names and decorating the nursery, my husband and I were obsessing over nappies, or diapers, because we had just read that one disposable nappy takes 500 years to biodegrade. So we kind of looked down at my growing belly, and we thought, "That's just in time for our great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandbaby's arrival." So we decided we'd use cloth nappies. But with 95% of the population using disposables, those statistics weren't going away. And so it came to be that nappies - the waste they create, and how to fix them - became our life's work. Now, nappies are a seriously dirty business, and not just because they're filled with poop but because they're made of plastic. One disposable nappy contains one cup of oil. That's a non-renewable resource. And you might think, "Ah, they're only used by 5% of the population." 250 million disposable nappies are used every single day around the world. Every day! That's 250 million cups of oil. 250 million little balls of plastic and poop, you know, that we roll up tightly and hold our nose as parents and we throw them away. But where is "away"? To date, the vast majority end up in landfills, where we've heard they're going to sit for hundreds of years. And to be clear, that's the same for all plastic. Every single piece of plastic ever produced on the entire planet is still here in one way, shape, or form and will be for hundreds of years. Now, in Australia, we think, "We're responsible consumers; we recycle." As a nation, less than 10% of our plastic waste is actually recycled. That means 9 out of 10 yogurt containers go directly to landfill. One will get recycled or downcycled and then go to landfill or into the ocean because, sadly, this is also "away." Eight million metric tons of plastic waste enters the oceans each year. That's on top of the existing 150 million metric tons of plastic waste that's already in there. I'm going to be really clear: there is no debate about this; there are no plastic-pollution deniers out there. You know, throwing our garbage "away" is blatantly irresponsible. And yet, we keep doing it. You know, we keep extracting fossil fuels from the ground to make plastic to throw it away, you know, or we create band-aid solutions at the end, like recycling or incineration, to desperately try to, you know, clean up the mess that we've just created. If we want to stop plastic pollution, how about we stop making stuff out of plastic? You know, with nappies - (Applause) With nappies, we can make them out of compostable materials. We can design out waste right from the beginning. It's the principles of the circular economy. So the idea is to mimic nature. So think of a tree, right? A tree creates a leaf, it falls to the ground, it gets reabsorbed back into the earth, and that nourishes the soil to grow the tree. Nature is abundant; it's designed to regenerate. Now, you can see why we need to move past our current take-make-waste linear economy. We need to get beyond recycling and get right into a regenerative system that avoids landfill altogether. You see, here's the thing: nothing biodegrades in landfill. Not an apple, not a newspaper, not a compostable nappy. Modern landfills are designed precisely to prevent biodegradation: they're dry; they're airtight. So we need to guarantee that all of our compostable products and materials and organic waste don't go to landfill in the first place. We need to guarantee that they're collected and regenerated so they can go back into our natural systems and replenish them. Now, we've been working with the Circular Economy 100 on a co-project, and we've collaborated on a blueprint. The blueprint is very simply a circular solution to nappy waste for local areas. That blueprint will be available to anyone who's interested in solving the nappy waste in their area. The idea is that we deliver compostable nappies, we collect that used waste, and then we regenerate it into valuable resources. So it's nappies to nature, not landfill. Now, you might be wondering, "If all of this is possible today, why hasn't the massive global nappy industry shifted to a more circular solution?" Well, plastic is cheap. Landfills? Cheap. Throwing our garbage in the ocean is essentially free. You know, in our current economic model, there's no benefit for doing the "right thing," you know, as consumers or for companies. In fact, it's usually the opposite, right? Doing the better thing for our health, our community, or the planet usually costs us more money. And when it comes to convenience, companies are clear: they put the burden squarely on us as consumers. They argue - as long as we keep buying it, they'll keep making it. But here's the thing: the mother of a two-year-old, let's say, uses five nappies a day; the big companies are producing 100 million nappies a day. So who has the greater responsibility? Now, the good news is tides are turning. We are seeing governments step up and lead. The European Union and China have introduced extended producer responsibility. Now, that simply means that if a company brings a product into the world, they're equally responsible for taking it out sustainably. We've also seen 23 countries around the world outright ban plastic bags. And just recently, the UK Parliament declared a climate crisis emergency. Now, I was really hoping to add Australia in this space, but even if our politicians aren't stepping up, our citizens are. You know, we're seeing young Australians around the country join students from around the world, you know, out there striking for action on climate. As a nation, our plastic bag usage dropped 80% last year in just 3 months as consumers - as we all got used to bringing our own reusable bags to the grocery stores. And just up the road, in Vanuatu, they became the first country in the world to put a ban on the sale and the use of disposable nappies. (Applause) Now, that ban comes into effect December 2020, but it's exciting to see. As more countries start to hit the climate crisis, specifically around plastic waste, we're going to need solutions that challenge our existing mindset around extraction and waste. We need to go far beyond recycling. We need to be inspired by nature. And we need to reimagine how we make, use, and contribute to the world we live in. Thank you. (Applause)